The following piece is the third installation of “Blogger without borders,” a blog by junior Bianca Al-Shamari that details her gap semester in Austria from September 2015 to January 2016. Al-Shamari will discuss everything from the refugee crisis in Western Europe to the cultural experience she’s encountering in Vienna. She plans to immerse herself into a new culture and share an international perspective with Palo Alto High School through photos, interviews and travel updates.

    A section of an Austrian refugee camp in Schwechat houses men, women and children in make-shift bedding. Refugees, over 80 individuals in total, were placed under a mass tent set up by local volunteers. Photo by Bianca Al-Shamari.

    A section of an Austrian refugee camp in Schwechat houses men, women and children in make-shift bedding. Refugees, over 80 individuals in total, were placed under a mass tent set up by local volunteers. Photo by Bianca Al-Shamari.

    We are in the midst of one of the greatest population migrations in modern history. But given the recent attacks in France, Lebanon, Iraq, Russia and the United States, many have either stopped accepting refugees or enforced border control, which has elevated tensions and created widespread controversy among both citizens and the millions seeking asylum.

    In late October, I learned of a nearby location in the Vienna District of Austria that housed newly-arrived refugees. In an effort to shed light on the stifled experiences these individuals have gone through on their path to safety, I spoke with some of the refugees who came from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Mongolia.

    I met with a total of 16 individuals who solely spoke Arabic or Farsi. It was my luck to have met Hassan Kathem, an Iraqi refugee who spent some time studying in Ukraine, learning enough Russian for the two of us to speak together. Kathem helped me communicate with some of the refugees on a more personal level by translating the Arabic words of his fellow refugees to Russian.

    Many of these families have lost their homes and loved ones during traumatic events. It is important to keep an open mind and heart as we take a small glance into the world of stories held by those affected during the European refugee crisis. Today, regardless of language barriers, we have the opportunity to hear the real voices of the refugee crisis. I look forward to sharing these stories with you through a three-part installment.

    My translator, a refugee:

    The first story I would like to share is with my Russian-Arabic translator, Hassan Kathem, who briefly studied in Ukraine before returning to his home in Iraq. Shortly after his return, the national tension and chaos worsened in Iraq and his family told him to flee and leave them behind. With Kathem’s help, I was able to speak to refugees without any written translations, providing a link between two worlds.

    “I’m Hassan Kathem and I come from Iraq. Before the war worsened, I studied in Ukraine for two years, learning Russian, which allows me to speak with some people in [Vienna], like you. The current situation in my country is not good and I am expecting it to get worse over the next 5 years. Now I’m just living, away from the dangers of my home.  My journey was short: it took 8 days once I traveled from Turkey to Vienna. I feel secure. I expect life to be good through this year when I am in Vienna. I have 4 sisters and 4 brothers, but my family is not here, they are back in Iraq. As of now I’m learning German. I can speak, but it’s not strong.”

    Part 1 – Translated from Arabic.

    Part 2 – Translated from Arabic.

    Part 3 – Translated from Farsi, Russian and Mongolian.

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